Analysis by Reporting San Diego
May 10, 2017 (San Diego) The dust has hardly settled. The firing of FBI Director James Comey was stunning. There is only one other parallel of the person investigating possible criminality by the sitting president being fired. That was Archibald Cox, when Richard Nixon tried to derail the Watergate investigation. The question is now loud in everybody’s mind. What did the president know, and when did he know it?
The way that it was done also has parallels to the Saturday Night Massacre. However, Nixon’s Attorney General and the Assistant Attorney General resigned, instead of carrying out the deed. The person who fired Cox was then U.S. Solicitor General Robert Bork.
The process used by the White House was quite stunning. President Donald Trump had the letter of firing delivered to the FBI headquarters office after news broke that Comey had been fired. That letter was inside a plain Manila folder. Nor was it delivered by a government employee, but a long time Trump security guard.
The now former director was in the Los Angeles field office and learned he was no longer director of breaking news on TV monitors. They did not have the good graces to at least inform him of this in private. It was a ham-fisted manner also meant to send a message to any who investigate the president, and it comes after the firing of Sally Yates as acting Attorney General, and Preet Bharara, U.S Attorney in the New York Office.
The firing of Cox and the resignations of both the Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy AG William Ruckelshaus happened on a Saturday night. All these people were also taken by surprise and were away from media.
According to contemporary reporting on Watergate from the Washington Post:
he President discharged Cox because he “refused to comply with instructions” the President gave him Friday night through the Attorney General, Ziegler said.
Furthermore, Ziegler said, the office of special prosecutor was abolished and its functions have been turned over to the Department of Justice.
Questions have been raised as to what happens to the documents that Comey might have had. The precedent is clear. If the parallels continue in this way, Comey will only be able to retrieve personal effects, and the rest will be under guard.
Nixon fired Cox in an attempt to stop the Watergate investigation. However, it was precisely this action that might have sealed his fate and led to the hearings. Ultimately. President Nixon resigned and was succeeded by Gerald R Ford, the only president never elected to the office, or the vice presidency.
Like Nixon, Trump has fired the man who had some independence and was investigating his campaign. The morass of the Russian investigation is not going away. In effect, it is getting deeper. These actions have dug an even deeper hole.
There are other parallels to those long ago events. It was not just Democrats who were taken aback by this action, and have repeatedly called for a special prosecutor. Some Republicans have as well. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has called for a special committee and repeated that call yesterday. Locally Congressman Darrell Issa (R-49) has called for a special prosecutor to look into the relationship of Russia to the Trump campaign.
Congressman Scott Peters (D-51) called for both.
“Never before has it been clearer that the integrity of our democracy depends on an independent commission to investigate Russian interference in our election and a special prosecutor at the Department of Justice to follow an investigation to wherever – and whomever – it leads. Anyone who stands in the way of an independent investigation denies the American people the answers they deserve.”
Senator Bob Corker, Republican from Tennessee also said that “it is essential that ongoing investigation is free of political interference until completion.” This firing is the textbook example of political interference.
While more Democrats than Republicans are in favor of any special investigations, the Republican leadership is not. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn went so far as to say that there is no need for a special prosecutor. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has also defended this firing, saying that Comey had lost everybody’s trust.
So what are the next steps? What happened on May 9 is indeed a dark day in American history and comes on the heels of Comey requesting more resources on this investigation. According to the New York Times
Mr. Comey asked for the resources during a meeting last week with Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who wrote the Justice Department’s memo that was used to justify the firing of the F.B.I. director this week.
This fits a well honed pattern from the Trump White House. Acting AG Sally Yates was fired after warning the White House that then National Security Advisor Michael Flynn might have been compromised by the Russian government and could be subject to blackmail. He was later fired, and the White House at the time denied her warnings were serious. White House spokesman Sean Spiecer referred to her three warnings as just a heads up.
Then there is the firing of New York Federal Prosecutor Bharara, while that happened when all Federal Prosecutors were also fired, he was heading an investigation into Russian ties and the Trump campaign. This pattern is not just worrisome, but leads to the obvious question. What is the White House trying to hide?
Attorney General Jeff Sessions was active in this situation as well, never mind that he recused himself from the matter after not being quite forthcoming with the US Senate during hearings leading to his appointment. This looks like an abuse of power.
However, it was his deputy, recently appointed Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein who penned the memo detailing the reasons for the firing. He was asked during hearings if he would continue the investigations, and at the time he said he would. However, there are reports that the president has been angered by the mushrooming crisis, which he wants to end, it now appears by any means.
This is another parallel to Watergate. There are many stories of President Nixon walking the darkened hallways of the White House at night, as the walls closed in. President Trump instead is screaming at TV clips detailing the developments of the day. This, however, will add to calls to for an increased inquiry and will further deepen the hole he finds himself in. Like Watergate, what might bring this White House down will be the coverup.
The president has defended his actions, and in a series of tweets promised that both parties will thank him. What he is doing is try to reframe the debate from the comparisons to Nixon and Watergate, to something mild. In the meantime, his actions, and those of his administration raise questions as to how far they will go to squash the Russia investigation.
This is a slow motion constitutional crisis. One that will become what then President Gerald Ford called a national nightmare when he took over from Nixon. This is going to be one hot summer. It will also raise the question of how far will a party put their president ahead of the nation and democracy.